July 11, 2004
We arrived in Long Beach from Denver on Saturday. I am really glad we arrived a day early since 3 of our 7 pieces of luggage did not arrive at first. I, of course, panicked since one of the missing pieces had all of my fancy clothes. There were a number of us on the flight from Denver to LA that did not have our luggage so the person at baggage claim asked them to recheck the plane and fortunately our luggage was still on the plane so they sent it to baggage claim. We left on SuperShuttle for the Long Beach Coast Hotel a bit later than we had planned but at least we had all of our luggage. I had made a reservation with SuperShuttle but I don't think it was necessary. Basically all you do is flag down a SuperShuttle van that says "Long Beach."
About 30 minutes later we checked into our room at the Coast Long Beach Hotel. The desk person asked us what time we wanted to take the shuttle to the pier the next day so I said 10:30 not knowing really what time I should have asked for. After putting our luggage in the room, we decided to go eat dinner. Long Beach has a free trolley service that takes you to downtown so we caught the trolley right in front of the hotel.
The Swimming Olympic Trials were going on in Long Beach while we were there so downtown was hopping since that is where the Convention Center is. We had a nice dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery. We were able to get a table right away but noticed that when we left the line was out the door. The Swimming must have been over for the day. After dinner we walked around downtown a bit but then caught the trolley back to the hotel. We walked out to the pier to get a look at where our ship would be in the morning. Then called it a night anxious to begin our cruise.
We actually caught the shuttle about 10:00 and were at the pier a few minutes later. Since the previous cruisers were getting off the ship, the drop off location was quite chaotic but that was to be expected. We flagged down a porter and gave him our luggage hoping that it didn't get mixed up with the luggage leaving the ship. (Can you tell I'm a worrier?)
There were lots of friendly Carnival personnel directing us to the Queen Mary for early check in. There were maybe one or two groups in front of us at early check in so it took us about 2 minutes to start early check in. Since I had filled out the Fun Pass about 2 months earlier, check in took very little time. We gave the check in person our blue documents packs and passports. She asked for a credit card. We all had to sign the blue packet and then she gave each of us our sail and sign cards. This entire process took about 5 minutes, if that.
We walked over to the check in place to wait to board the ship. We just sat on the grass watching people depart the ship. About 11:00 folks who had done early check in started lining up to board the ship although we had been told we probably wouldn't board till 12:30 at the earliest. At about 11:30 I got in line while the rest of my family waited on the grass. There were probably 100 people in front of me which wasn't bad. About 12:30 a large wedding party was allowed on the ship and then about 12:45 - 1:00 they started to let us in. The line moved quickly although we went from one check point to the next. Don't remember the exact order but we went through the metal detectors like at the airport and then up the escalator where they scanned our sail and sign card and took part of our blue documents package and then they took our picture so that when we left the ship at the ports our picture would match up with our sail and sign card. Then we took the obligatory "Smile, you're finally boarding the Carnival Pride" picture and then walked across the walkway onto the ship.
Lots of Carnival staff was directing people to their rooms. Since my 13 and 14 year olds were with us, we also received a flyer about the teen meeting for the 12-14 year old group later that night. On our walk through the lounges to the elevators we saw the first of many explicit paintings. I was glad my kids are 13 and 14 although by the end of the cruise, we were pretty oblivious to the artwork. We had a balcony cabin and an inside cabin on the aft part of the Empress Deck (deck 6). Our cabins were right across the hall from each other. Since my son wanted to swim with the Dolphins in Puerto Vallarta we went straight to the Shore Excursions desk and signed up my son and me. My husband and daughter signed up for the Dolphin Encounter at the same time. We then went to the Pursers Desk and got sail and sign card for the other rooms we had. Basically they give you a sail and sign card with a hole punched in it that can be used as a room key but not for purchases. We went to the nearest bar and bought a soda card for each of my kids. I ordered my first frozen drink of the cruise.
Then it was off to Mermaid's Grille for lunch. I liked how it was set up with lots of different food and drink stations so that it wasn't just one long line of folks getting food. We found the pizza and ice cream right away since I knew that was what my kids would be living on for the next 7 days. After lunch we went back to our rooms hoping our luggage had arrived but it had not. My daughter and I then explored the ship which was beautiful. After months reading everything I could about the Pride on CruiseCritic, it was fun finally seeing all of the places on the ship in person. Of course it was also time for another ice cream cone.
Back to the room and still no luggage. We could see gobs and gobs of luggage still on the pier and the Carnival staff working hard at getting the luggage on the ship and to our rooms. After our scare at LAX the day before with some of our luggage not showing up at first, I just wanted to know our luggage had made it onto the ship and wasn't left in the parking garage. Right before we sailed our luggage appeared so I was a happy person.
We went out on the balcony and watched us sail away from Long Beach. I couldn't believe that after months and months of planning and anticipation, we were finally sailing. Since we had early seating for dinner (5:45), soon it was time to get ready for dinner.
I was a bit disappointed that we had a dinner table just for the 4 of us since I enjoy meeting new people at dinner but in the end it worked out fine. There were many large family groups on the sailing so they needed the larger tables for them. Our Waiter was Samur from Sri Lanke (sp) and I can't remember where our Assistant Waiter Martina was from. Both were great. Samur was very helpful and accommodating and Martina was very friendly and cheerful. It took us awhile to get the Wine Steward's attention so that we could get some Cokes for the kids but after the first night he had Cokes waiting for them each night. Overall the food in the Dining Room was ok, not great but not bad. My daughter is a very picky eater so each night she had Pizza, French fries, and Caesar Salad for dinner. Some nights she would try an appetizer or soup but most times she didn't like it. To me, this is her choice, not a problem with Carnival's food. My son is a Vegetarian so some nights he had Pizza, Fries, and Caesar Salad but many nights he would try the Vegetarian entrée and usually had soup and an appetizer. Most nights I chose the seafood entrée and my husband chose one if not two entrees. We did all like the bread and desserts.
After dinner I practically dragged my kids to the 12-14 year old teen meeting. My son had met a person on line who was on the cruise so they had arranged to meet at the teen meeting. He thought he knew who she was but was reluctant to meet her while I was there even though most kids were there with their parents. My daughter was just miserable and is not one to just go up to people she doesn't know so after about 10 minutes she and I left. I was glad she at least went to the meeting but I could tell it just wasn't her thing. I left my son there with a walkie talkie and instructions to let me know what he was doing and to be back to our room by midnight. He later called me on the walkie talkie saying he, the person he had talked to on line and about 4 other kids were going to the arcade.
My husband, daughter, and I roamed the ship and went to the opening show ( I think). I should have kept the Capers to remember what happened each day. We then went back to our rooms and called it a day. I still had the walkie talkie on and every now and then my son would call and let me know what he was doing. Lots of other folks were on the same channel but he and I were still able to talk to each other. About 11:45 he came back to the room. I, of course, wanted to ask him lots of questions. He, being 13, wanted to say as little as possible. He did tell me that one of the boys he walked around with was sitting at the table right next to us at dinner and that the group of about 6 of them stayed at the Teen meeting for a bit but then left and went to the arcade, and ate pizza and ice cream, and just talked. We were all pretty tired and I was looking forward to two days at sea.
After breakfast I found a deck chair by the pool. Even though it was about 9:30 many of the chairs were either taken or saved. My husband and daughter headed off to the port talk and my son headed off to find his friends from the night before. About an hour later my son and daughter showed up at the pool with a horse they had "won" in the horse auction. I was quite surprised but they were so excited that how could I not be excited for them.
To quickly explain the horse auction, each week they auction off 6 horses (think of the horse on a stick we all pretended to ride when we were about 5 years old). These horses are mounted on a small platform and those who "win" the horse auction decorate it and then carry it around with them all over the ship (but not off the ship) all week generating interest in their horse. On Saturday there is a horse race and the owner who gets the most money bet on their horse wins 30 % of the wagers. My kids named our horse Levi's Pride after our dog Levi who they missed.
Once again I went back to reading my book and drinking my diet coke while my daughter and husband attended the port talk and my son went to the arcade. I told my son to meet my daughter and me at 3:00 at Bingo since we enjoy playing Bingo. My daughter, husband, and I agreed to meet for lunch at 1:00 in Mermaid's Grille. My husband said the port talk was fine although he didn't learn anything earth shattering. They repeat the port talk as well as all programs (except the dance and entertainment acts) on the cabin TVs all week so I was able to catch the port talk later.
After lunch I went back to my deck chair for a few hours till it was time for Bingo. Soon the cruise staff was getting the pool crowd to participate in a Survivor Game around the pool. It was quite funny to watch as two teams of 6 did some races around the pool and a scavenger hunt. Whichever team lost had to vote someone off their team. By the end of the competition, there were four left on each team and they participated in Survivor Part 2 the next day.
My daughter and I met my son at Bingo in the Taj Mahal Lounge which is where most of the activities take place. I did notice during the week that if there were back to back activities in the Taj Mahal, they tended to run late by about 10-15 minutes. I bought my son and daughter each a 3 part Bingo card for $20 each and we began a trend that continued all week. We never won a game. By the end of the cruise, I told my kids that if we won a game, we would maybe break even on our Bingo spending.
After Bingo we went to the cabins to get dressed for the formal dinner. Since we rarely if ever all get dressed up, I wanted us to get a picture taken of all 4 of us. They had about 5 locations set up in the Atrium area for formal portraits and we went to all of the locations. I figured it would increase our odds of getting a picture that we all looked good in. I ended up buying a picture of my two kids together but we (I should say "my daughter and I") didn't like any of our family formal pictures from this night so we took more formal pictures on Friday. We then went briefly to the formal cocktail party in the Taj Mahal where they were passing out drinks and appetizers. Greg, the Cruise Director, introduced the Captain and his staff.
Tonight they had lobster for dinner so I ordered that. Once again, the dinner was good but not great. My son's friend was sitting at the table next to us so I introduced myself to his mother and we spent the rest of the cruise chatting at dinner and doing activities together.
After dinner the boys changed out of their formal clothes and back to their t-shirts and shorts and headed off to the arcade and to meet their other friends. Later they went to the hot tubs. My son had a walkie talkie and I told him to stay in touch and be home by midnight. My husband, daughter and I changed into less formal clothes and went off to the productions show called Wonderful World. The show was fantastic especially the numerous costumes.
After the show we grabbed some desserts and drinks at Mermaid's Grille and headed off to bed. I still had the walkie talkie on and periodically my son would call me or I'd call him just to see where he was. He was home by midnight and we were all off to sleep.
When we all got up on Tuesday morning we noticed that the sky was a bit cloudy and the ship was rocking a bit. Well you can't control the weather and some rocking of the ship is ok since that lets you know you're on the water. All 4of us went to breakfast at Mermaid's Grille and then I went find a deck chair since I wanted to lay in the sun again (even if there wasn't too much sun.) I noticed today that there were more deck chairs taken or saved earlier than yesterday. I found a chair on the back of the Lido deck and set up shop with my book and a cup of coffee. My son headed off to the arcade and my daughter and husband went off to the shopping talk.
Well by about 10:00 the clouds really rolled in and it started to drizzle. A few of us diehard sun-worshippers decided a little bit of rain wasn't bad and maybe this would blow over. Also who wants to give up their prime deck location? Well just a few minutes later the rain got harder and the wind picked up so I gathered up my belongings and headed to the Taj Mahal to find my family. I went first to our room to leave a note since I had left my deck location.
The rain and wind were really picking up by now and the rocking on the ship was getting worse. The Captain came on over the intercom and told us that we had sailed through a tropical storm the night before and were still picking up the tail end of the storm. He said it would be better by the time we got to Puerto Vallarta the next day.
My husband, daughter, and I headed off to lunch and left my son sleeping in the room. By 2:30 or so my son was feeling better so off to Bingo we went. I noticed that they had paper bags like on airplanes pinned up around the ship for those who were not going to make it to a bathroom in time. Well once again we didn't win at Bingo. After Bingo, Cameron who was the Comedian/Magician from the first night was giving a talk about his magic and sharing some of his magic tricks. My son loves magic so he and I stayed for this. Cameron was quite informative however my son knew a number of his magic tricks already so he wasn't as impressed as I was.
After this we went back to the room. My son started feeling worse again and in fact fell asleep. As we were getting ready for dinner, I woke him up to see if he wanted to go with us but he didn't so I left him sleeping in the room while we went off to dinner.
The Dining Room was quite empty tonight probably due to a number of folks feeling lousy. My son's friend had slept the day away also. He made it to dinner where the dining staff was kind enough to make him butter noodles for dinner. I asked our Waiter if I could get Macaroni and Cheese to take to my son in the room. He brought it to me just a few minutes later. This was so kind of them since this wasn't even on the menu.
I brought it to my son who ate a little of it. Did he not eat it because he wasn't feeling well or was it because it wasn't Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with fake powdered cheese like he has at home? Who knows? After this he went to the arcade for a bit but was back in the room by 10:00.
Everyone going on the 10:15 Swim or Encounter was met at the pier by a representative from Puerto Vallarta Adventures. As soon as our group was assembled we were directed to two buses just outside the gates of the pier. The area we were in seemed to be just off a busy street (and by a Wal-Mart.) We drove for about 30 minutes past the airport to an area of Puerto Vallarta called Nuevo Vallarta. There seemed to be a number of hotels/resorts here including the Paradise Village Resort and Spa that Carnival uses for the Beach Excursion.
When we got to the Dolphin Adventure place they divided us into 3 groups, those doing the Dolphin Swim, those doing the Dolphin Encounter, and those just watching. I didn't know that there was an option to just watch and probably if I had known that I might have done that. However, having done the Dolphin Swim, I'm glad that is what I chose to do. Those of us doing the Encounter or Swim went to an area close by to listen to a short (maybe 15 minute) talk on tape about dolphins. The areas for the Encounter and the Swim were right next to each other so the whole time I could see my husband and daughter and they could see my son and I.
They asked us to take off all of our jewelry so we wouldn't scratch the Dolphins. My wedding ring doesn't come off so they put tape over my diamond. We then got into our bathing suits which most of us had worn underneath our clothes. You can just leave your clothes and backpacks or beach bags in the same place that you listen to the info about the Dolphins. It is right next to the pools they use for the Encounter and Swim and seemed quite safe to me. Those of us doing the Dolphin Swim then were fitted for life jackets, divided into groups of 8 and then got into the pool. We had 4 groups of 8. Those doing the Encounter went over to another smaller pool.
The groups of 8 doing the Swim got into the pool at different corners of the pools so we wouldn't crowd each other. We each had a trainer from the Dolphin Swim place that stayed with us the whole time telling us what to do and answering all of our questions. They didn't get into the pool but stayed on the deck directing the dolphins. Each group had two dolphins. I thought the water would be cold when we got in but it wasn't. Since we had the life jackets on, we were able to basically just float and not have to tread water. We spent awhile just touching and petting the dolphins which was a great way to get us used to these large, beautiful animals swimming right next to us. To me their skin felt like a smooth rubber tire. I thought I would be scared but it was an incredible experience. While we were in the water with the dolphins another employee was walking around video taping all of the groups.
After awhile, in groups of two (since everyone in our group had come with one other person) the trainer had the dolphins plant a kiss on us with their nose. Of course a picture was taken of this so we could buy it later. After this in groups of two we each got to ride a dolphin. The trainer would have two dolphins roll over on their backs and then each person would grab the fins of the dolphin (so one person per dolphin) and go for a ride around the pool as the trainer directed the dolphins. Again, I wasn't sure I could do this but it also was an incredible experience. The whole time in the water was about an hour although it seemed longer. All of us agreed that even though this excursion was not cheap, it was well worth it.
Those doing the Encounter got into a smaller pool and stood on a bench to pet and be kissed by the dolphin. I know my daughter and husband were fine with the Encounter but in my opinion for the difference in price ($99 vs. $169), I'd recommend the Swim.
After we were all out of the pool and raving about our experiences, we went to a little store where you could buy souvenirs such as shirts and other things related to Dolphins. Also on monitors they were showing the videos and pictures they had taken of everyone so that we could purchase them. We chose to purchase some pictures but did not buy the video. After about 30 minutes we got back on the buses and returned to the ship.
We went back to our rooms, changed into dry clothes, and then headed upstairs to Mermaid's Grille for lunch. After we ate, we headed back to the pier, grabbed a cab and went downtown to shop. My husband had learned at the shopping talk the day before to tell the cab driver you wanted to be dropped off at Diamonds International or else the cab driver may not drop you off at a location convenient to the shops.
The shopping area is very congested with people and cars. After all Puerto Vallarta is a large urban city. It was very hot and humid so after stopping in a few stores and buying a few souvenirs, we grabbed a cab and returned to the ship. There are a few shopping stalls right in the area next to the ship. My son really wanted one of those large straw hats that say "Viva Mexico" so we stopped in shop to bargain with a shopkeeper. I probably should have bargained a bit more but live and learn. We bought a hat and I wondered if we were going to have to buy the hat a seat on our airplane back to Denver.
We turned on the TV while getting ready for dinner and saw that Jeopardy was on. We had been watching Jeopardy all summer while a contestant named Ken keeps winning, so watched the show this night. After dinner, we walked around the ship but didn't go to the shows tonight. I think we were just worn out after the day in the sun and humidity. Of course my son still had lots of energy so he met up with his friends and hung out at the arcade, the hot tubs, and Mermaid's Grille eating pizza until 1:00 am. The ship sailed at 10:00 and we were on our way to Mazatlan.
Thursday we were in Mazatlan and I had booked horseback riding with Randi months ago. I won't go into specifics since others have written extensively on the details of riding with Randi's Happy Horses but suffice it to say it was all it was cracked up to be. There were about 20 folks from our ship riding with Randi that day and we all had a great time. My son rode on Pony and was able to gallop with his horse which he enjoyed. My daughter, who was quite nervous about the whole adventure, rode Champion and had a good time. It was much better than she thought it would be. My husband rode Indio who took off with him one time in the mango groves. This had to be the funniest part of our adventure. Now we can laugh about it but I think for a second my husband got a bit concerned. I forgot the name of my horse but he was quite slow and brought up the rear the entire trip. Maria, one of Randi's helpers, stayed with me so I wouldn't be too far behind. To be honest, I was ok going slowly. Riding horses along the beach is just something I don't think any of us will forget. It was just so pretty and peaceful. After riding, we had lunch at Victors. Of course I had the garlic shrimp which was wonderful. Randi keeps most of the folks selling souvenirs away from us so that was nice. I didn't realize how nice that actually was though until we were in Cabo the next day and inundated with folks constantly wanting us to buy souvenirs. All in all, horseback riding was one of the highlights of our trip.
Tonight was the Talent Show which was wonderful. There were some incredible singers, a gymnast, a dancer, and two girls who played the violin. The best performance was an older gentleman who sang "Old Man River." He brought the house down. My guess is that he had a theater background since his voice was so incredible. After the Talent Show, Greg, the Cruise Director, told us a Bedtime Story. My guess is he does this on every cruise but this is an event not to be missed. Those of us who heard the story were talking about it the rest of the cruise.
Friday we were in Cabo which was the only port that we used tenders to get to the pier. Since my husband and daughter don't like the beach too much, my son and I and his friend and his mother decided we would go into Cabo together and find a beach. I had asked at the Pursers desk the night before how to get to the beach from the pier. I was told to go right off the pier and there would be a beach right there. Well this was not exactly true. We walked out of the pier area and walked and walked. We chose not to take a water taxi since we thought the beach was "just around the corner."
Well after walking about 30 minutes, a person at the Bucket of Shrimp restaurant directed us to the beach. It was somewhat crowded but we were able to get two lounge chairs and an umbrella pretty quickly. They said we just had to buy food or drinks and we said that would not be a problem. The boys took off for the water and soon were asking for money for a banana boat ride. For $20 the boys each got to ride a banana boat with about 3 other people. They had a great time even if they did flip over in the water. Good thing they were wearing life vests (and good thing that their moms didn't actually see them flip into the water.) Later the boys rented a skin board which is sort of like a boogie board that you get on from the shore and then go into the water. The boys had a great time at the beach.
We later ordered beer for us adults, sodas for the boys, and nachos for all of us. The Sol beer was great and the nachos were wonderful. The water was so pretty and I think we could have spent a lot more time there. Since the last tender back to the ship was at 3:30, about 2:00 we took a water taxi (for $3.00 each) back to the pier, did a bit of shopping at the pier, and then were back on the ship by 3:00.
My husband and daughter ended up going to a different beach than my son and I but they were not there as long as we were. I was happy to see them back on the ship when we returned from Cabo.
We left Cabo by 4:00 sailing back to Long Beach. I sat out on our balcony and just looked at the beautiful scenery as we left Cabo. It was absolutely gorgeous and I would love to return there.
This night was another formal dinner although folks were not as dressed up as they were for the first formal dinner. We had more formal portraits of our family taken that night and ended up buying a few. Tonight was another productions show called Vroom which was wonderful. The music, dancing, and singing were great and once again the costumes were outstanding.
Also tonight was the Grand Gala Buffet in the main Dining Rooms. From 11:30 until 12:15 folks could take pictures and at 12:30 we able to eat the goodies. The presentation of the food was fantastic and quite creative. To me, the food looked much better than it tasted.
Saturday was a day at sea and fortunately the weather was quite nice. My son hung out with his friends most of the day while I sat by the pool soaking up as much sun as possible. My husband and daughter checked out the sales at the stores and went to the debarkation talk.. That afternoon was the horse race. Other ships I've been on have done this at the pool whereas Carnival does this at the Taj Mahal lounge. It seemed to me that most of the folks at the horse racing were those of us that had bought a horse. It was fun to see how everyone had decorated their horses. Our horse, Levi's Pride, won the first race but lost the Owner's race. If he had won the owner's race we would have won some money or if he had the most folks bet on him, we also would have won some money. Oh well.
After this we decided to donate more money to others by playing Bingo. Once again, we didn't win anything but we were close a few times. (Doesn't everyone say that???) After Bingo we stayed for what is called "Up Close and Personal" which is when about 6 staff members talk about working and living on a cruise ship. It seems that all really love what they do but that it is a lifestyle as well as a job. After the talk, a few of the dancers and Greg's staff do a little skit. I won't divulge the contents but this is a "Must See."
After dinner and saying goodbye to our waiter and assistant waiter, it was time to pack since they ask you to have your luggage outside your cabin door by midnight. It sure was easier to pack to go home than it was to pack to go on the cruise. I also realized that it is true when people say take half as many clothes and twice as much money. After packing my daughter and I hit the stores again for some last minutes purchases and we took pictures of various areas around the ship. My son was with his new friends. He wanted to stay out all night but I told him he had to be back to the room by 2:00am. He was back by 1:45 with his friends AOL screen names written all over his am.
Sunday was debarkation. It was hard to believe that after months of planning and anticipation, we were now heading home. We met our new friends for breakfast at Mermaid's Grille at about 8:00 am. It seemed that everyone on the ship had the same idea as us. We finally found a table outside by the pool and parked ourselves there until our luggage tag color was called. The first folks off the ship are those going on tours and those with flights prior to 1:00. Our flight to Denver wasn't until 3:45 so we weren't in too much of a hurry to get off the ship. Our friends also had a 3:45 flight so we figured we would hang out at the airport together.
Well about 9:15, our friend's luggage tag color was called so we exchanged cell phone numbers and decided to meet right outside the ship by the white dome. I decided to call my mother in Arizona and tell her we were back. It seemed that everyone was using their cell phones to call folks. What did we ever do before we had cell phone?
Soon they called another luggage tag color and then at about 9:45 our luggage tag color was called. It truly felt like winning the lottery. First they scan your sail and sign card and then you go through customs. Since we all had passports we were quickly through customs although the line for those with birth certificates didn't seem too long either. After this we found our luggage and headed out of the white dome to find our friends who were waiting for us. They had arranged with Carnival to take their transportation to the airport. I think it is $19 per person. I had made a reservation with SuperShuttle so we went over to their area, saw our name on the reservation list, and were in a SuperShuttle van and on the way to the airport by 10:15. I think our van ride for the 4 of us was about $63 plus a tip. It well worth it since our friends on the Carnival Bus didn't get to the airport until just before noon whereas we were at the airport by 11:00. In fact we never did see our friends at the airport although we did talk a few times. Since we were at the airport so early, we were even able to catch an earlier flight to Denver.
I was hesitant to take a Carnival Cruise but after our great vacation, we all are ready to book another trip as soon as possible. Now if we only had won at Bingo.